Having spent two weeks away, first in Arkansas and then in Chicago, it seems like there’s so much to tell, and yet so few pictures to back it up. Ever the way, I guess.
However, one thing I did take tons of pictures of was our Cupcake Crawl!
My awesome host Isabel and I had agreed that one thing I must do on this trip to Chicago was stop in at Bleeding Heart Bakery and try their vegan cupcakes. So that was our first stop (accompanied by my loving and wonderful husband Jeff, who nevertheless wimped out and stopped eating cupcakes after the first stop. Sometimes I do not understand the man).
Bleeding Heart Bakery
1955 W Belmont Ave
Chicago, IL 60657
Once inside, we were confronted with so many choices! Our counter-girl, who was really fun, informed us that sadly we could not get the jelly doughnut cupcake (maaaaaan). We asked what the most popular/beloved cupcake was, and were told that it was the “Slash” cupcake, in either chocolate or vanilla.
We went with the Chocolate Slash with Vanilla icing (right, below) and the Gingerbread cupcake with Brown Butter Buttercream (not vegan; left, below).
An interesting note about the Slash cupcake – we were curious about the name, as there was nothing obviously slashy about the cupcake, and were told that it was named after the Guns ‘n Roses singer, because the chocolate curls on the cupcake were reminiscent of the singer’s curls. Learn something every day!
On to the cupcakes!
The Slash cupcake was AWESOME. The chocolate cupcake was moist and delicious – not too light, not too heavy. The vegan vanilla icing was smooth and light and tasty. The chocolate curls were scrumptious. This cupcake set the bar for the day, and few cupcakes met it, I’m sad to say. And it’s vegan! Wow. Amazing cupcake. Perfect mix of sweetness and dark chocolate, great ratio of cake to frosting – just overall fantastic.
The gingerbread, however, did not live up to its vegan sibling, although I’d had high hopes for it (I love gingerbread). The buttercream frosting was.. extremely soft, and sort of weird, is the best I can put it. Kind of greasy feeling. Perhaps that was the butterfat right after eating the vegan cupcake, but even after a few minutes it was just greasy-feeling. The browned-butter taste was also not strongly apparent, more of a hint. As for the gingerbread cupcake, it was dry, my ultimate problem with cupcakes. Also not very strongly flavored (I like my gingerbread kicking and screaming). The frosting and cake worked together, but overall it was a disappointing cupcake.
Jeff, who was refusing to eat cupcakes, had this:
Basically, your delicious cream puff with tasty hazelnut frosting inside, and chocolate glaze with toasted hazelnuts on top. Yum!
Just around the corner (sort of), was Dinkel’s – an old-fashioned (founded in 1922) European-style bakery that I’d heard had the best cupcakes in Chicago (so we had to try it!)
3329 N. Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60657
We decided to have some savory treats to help counteract all of the sugar – I had a spinach pastry, and Jeff and Isabel both had small pizza breads – which were great! Buttery, flaky, savory. Yum.
The cupcake selection was meagre – only 3 or 4 kinds, of whch the best looked to be the Apple with Caramel Buttercream, and the Chocolate with Chocolate frosting.
First, the apple. Check out those edges! They were chewy and caramelized – quite tasty. If the rest of the cupcake had had the same flavor, it would have been perfect – sadly, it did not. It wasn’t bad, just sort of meh. The frosting had perfect texture (creamy but not slimy), but the flavor was, again, lacking.
The chocolate, though… I was underwhelmed. The cake was okay, but dry (grr). The frosting was also meh. The chocolate flavor was good – better than storebought – but the texture was not. Grainy and dry. Basically, these tasted like day-old cupcakes. Nobody else would even try this one, so I gave the rest to a nearby table with a four-year-old.
In other words, Dinkel’s disappointed.
We experienced further disappointment when it turned out that Bittersweet was closed on Mondays, and that the Chicago Diner had no vegan cupcakes (muffins, yes. but no cupcakes). Isabel had heard about a new place nearby that sounded interesting, though, so we went to check it out.
(for some reason, I have no picture of this store, so here’s the one from their website)
Sweet Honeybee Bakery
1918 W. Montrose Ave
Chicago, IL 60613
We walked in, and were confronted with a plethora of attractive choices under the counter. These people obviously take their cupcakes seriously!
Tons of flavors available, all of which were attractively decorated and presented. The guy behind the counter (super-friendly) was the brother of the baker, and told us that one of their most popular cupcakes was the Red Velvet with Cream Cheese frosting. “aha!”, we thought to ourselves, “A challenge”. Isabel was a self-professed red velvet snob, and very picky about her red velvet cake, so we decided to give it a try. It was hard to choose a second, but we finally settled on Champagne. Although I was wishing I’d gone for the key lime. Isn’t it just fabulous looking? I still wish I’d had it.
The verdict? “VERY nice!” The frosting had a very light cream cheese flavor – more of a butter flavor, and was very soft and delicious. The cupcake was moist and light, with a color almost burgundy. The cupcakes at Sweet Honeybee are smaller than those we found elsewhere – the size you’d normally make at home – but they’re cheaper, too, and when you’ve had one you feel like you could have another, rather than feeling like you’d eaten half of a cake. I find this a plus, especially with all of the flavors they have!
The Champagne cupcake was up next:
The cupcake was again light and airy and perfectly textured. It had a very faint lemony flavor to it (I couldn’t taste the champagne, but then again most champagne tastes like bubbles to me rather than anything specific). The ganache was light and sweet, and the chocolate coating was terrific. Perfect proportioning of frosting to cake, again.
Overall, a win! Great selection, good execution. The only quibble we had was that both of our cupcakes had a big bubble in them – and on a cupcake this size, that makes a difference! Need to give the pan a thwack on the counter before baking, it seems. But the texture is lovely and soft and moist, with great crumb, the ratio is perfect, and the frostings were delightful. Sweet Honeybee definitely stole the cake on this crawl!
After all of this, we rolled ourselves back home and sat on the couch staring at computers for a while before we went onward to dinner (Blind Faith Cafe, in Evanston, a fantastic place for foodies and vegetarians alike). The next day our friend Lisa met us with one late entry to the cupcake crawl – a chocolate/chocolate cupcake with sprinkles from Red Hen Bread (1623 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647-541 Phone: (773) 342-6823). It had gotten a little squashed from being stuffed into her bag, so no picture. Good frosting (nice and grainy – for some reason, chocolate just demands this), good cake, but the ratio was way off – too much frosting (and too many hard sprinkles). The flavor was really good, though, and there are some out there (*cough* Jeff *cough*) who like more frosting than is good for them, so this would be right up their alley. 🙂
The overall winners?
Best Single Cupcake: Chocolate Slash with Vanilla ‘Buttercream’ (vegan), from the Bleeding Heart Bakery. Everything a cupcake should be. I still remember it. It was so tasty…
Best source for LOTS of tasty cupcakes: Sweet Honeybee Bakery.
Cutest thing we found: Check out this CCC!:
Gotta wonder what the bunny did, though.
It was tons of fun, and I can’t wait to do it again. Best part? I didn’t gain any weight while in Chicago! Now that’s an accomplishment!